by Deacon Nick Donnelly
Last time I wrote about Enda Kenny’s same-sex ‘marriage’ referendum for Catholic Voice, a reporter for the Irish Sun newspaper contacted me. He told me my article proved controversial among ‘Yes’ supporters and asked me how I felt about them posting angry messages about me. The issue seemed to centre around my quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church which describes homosexual sex ‘as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."’ (CCC 2357).
I don’t like being at the receiving end of other peoples’ anger, but I’d rather this than deny the truths about man and sexuality contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. To me, the Catechism is not a dry academic book but loving truth that has saved me from committing grave evil.
How the Catechism saved me from committing a grave evil
My wife and I had been married for five years and not conceived, so our GP referred us to the hospital. From the very first appointment the consultants wanted us to sign up for IVF. We said ‘no’ because we knew that the Church said it was wrong. But we didn’t know why the Church taught that IVF was wrong. We underwent tests, and nothing else was said about IVF. Then one day a big envelope dropped through the letter box containing a letter and information pack informing us that – without our agreement – we had been enrolled on an IVF programme in London, with a date for starting the first cycle of IVF treatment.
This was a great temptation because we both longed with every cell of our bodies to have children and we were being offered that possibility. To help us think it through I got out the Catechism of the Catholic Church which sets out the moral reasons why IVF is wrong. The following section helped us:
‘A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The "supreme gift of marriage" is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged "right to a child" would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right "to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents," and "the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception." (CCC 2378).
We contacted the IVF clinic and declined the appointment. Fifteen years later we naturally conceived Gabriel and three years afterwards Ariel was conceived. Tragically both our babies died before birth. After each death our consultants again advised that we undergo IVF treatment. After all these years, and despite times of bitter grief, I am convinced that we came to the right decision with the moral guidance of the Church.
The doctrines of the Church save us from harm
Since reading that paragraph in the Catechism we have discovered that every year 100,000’s of embryonic human beings are killed, even experimented on, as the by-product of IVF treatments. Every word of that paragraph of the Catechism on IVF has been proven true – embryonic human beings are ‘considered a piece of property’, their rights as persons disregarded and violated from the moment of conception.
If it hadn’t been for the moral truths presented so clearly in the Catechism we would now be living with the unbearable grief of knowing that we were responsible for the deaths of our own children because we had used IVF. We couldn’t bear paying that price to hold babies in our arms.
This experience has taught me that the doctrines of the Church are not abstract or theoretical propositions thought up by academics and intellectuals remote from life. The Church’s doctrines on man’s nature and sexuality are merciful truths given us by God to save us from inflicting grave evils on ourselves and others.
The dignity of the homosexual person
In the same way, the doctrines on homosexuality and homosexual sex are intended to save men and women with homosexual inclinations from inflicting grave evils on themselves and others. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following about homosexual sex acts:
‘Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.’ (CCC 2357).
It’s important to be clear what this paragraph is saying and what it’s not saying. The Catechism is definitely not saying that men or women with homosexual inclinations are depraved or ‘intrinsically disordered’. The Church’s sexual morality makes an emphatic distinction between the person and his or her acts. The Catholic understanding of the intrinsic dignity of the human person means that we are more than our moral acts and we are more than our sexual orientation. This emphasis on the intrinsic dignity of the person is at the heart of the Church’s approach to the pastoral care of the homosexual person. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote:
‘The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation… Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a "heterosexual" or a "homosexual" and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.’ (CDF, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons).
Why are homosexual sex acts gravely depraved and intrinsically disordered?
The Catechism’s description of the immoral nature of homosexual sex acts is set within its examination of ‘offences against chastity’. It’s common for people to mistakenly think that only virgins, priests and religious are called to practice chastity, when the Church actually teaches that all people, single and married, have a vocation to chastity. The Catechism defines chastity as an ‘apprenticeship in self-mastery’ and ‘training in freedom’ required by all people:
‘Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man's belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift. (CCC, 2337).
Adultery, fornication, masturbation, pornography, and homosexual sex acts are ‘offences against chastity’ because they are ‘gravely contrary’ to the dignity, integrity and meaning that God has given to sexuality.
The nuptial meaning of the body
This dignity and purpose given to sexuality by God is called the ‘nuptial meaning of the body’. Simply put, revelation and natural law tell us that God created human beings in His image as the complementarity of maleness and femaleness:
‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’ ‘Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.’ (Genesis 1:27; 2:24).
Sexual intercourse between husband and wife expresses this God-given complementarity: the husband’s body, which expresses his person as male, has a ‘nuptial significance’, for he is so biologically structured to give himself to his wife by entering into her body-person, and so give himself to her. The wife’s body which expresses her person as female, has a ‘nuptial significance’ for she is so biologically structured to receive his body-person into herself, and in so receiving him, to give herself to him. (Paraphrased from Dr. William May).
It is called ‘nuptial’ because only through the Sacrament of Marriage are the conditions established for the total, unreserved giving of self between husband and wife – personal unity, fidelity, indissolubility, and openness to children.
Furthermore, the nuptial meaning of the complementarity of maleness and femaleness has as its purpose the procreation and upbringing of children. In becoming ‘one flesh’, husband and wife also become one complete organism capable of generating human life. This ‘nuptial meaning of the body is also expressed by the fact that the husband and the wife possess the two half’s of the one human reproductive organ. Precisely because husbands and wives are married, they have capacitated themselves – according to Revelation – to be co-creators of other human beings with God in a way that responds to the dignity of persons – self-giving love that is faithful, permanent and open to children.
Consequently, God’s purpose for sex and sexual love insists that genital sexual acts are exclusive to marriage between a woman and a man. It is only within marriage between a man and a woman that sex fulfils its intrinsic meaning. Therefore, any sexual acts outside marriage are not only nonsensical, but also damaging to the meaning and language of sexual love.
Homosexual sex acts, and masturbation, possess no ‘nuptial meaning' because they reject, and contradict, the complementarity of maleness and femaleness and openness to the procreation of children. This is why the Church’s moral doctrine refers to these two types of sexual behaviour as ‘intrinsically disordered’. Even more so, anal sex or sodomy, committed by homosexual or heterosexual couples, are ‘acts of grave depravity’ because they simulate, and thereby mock, the sexual complementarity of maleness and femaleness, and are definitively opposed to the procreation of children. As the Catechism puts it, ‘They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.’ (CCC 2357).
If Enda Kenny and the ruling elite of Ireland succeed in legalising so called same-sex marriage, they will damage the God-given meaning and language of sexual love, inflicting untold harm on countless homosexual persons by encouraging them to live a lie.
The seeming good of possibly having a child from IVF is a harmful illusion highlighted by the death of the other children. The seeming good of sexual acts other than between a married man and woman is a harmful illusion highlighted by the reality of sexual complementarity. God does not ask the impossible but he does ask for sacrifice. Sacrifice is always at the heart of true love.